I have a soft spot for Shepherd Neame; being a Kentish Man I'm fairly sure that the first beer I ever ordered by name (rather than asking for "bitter", or to be honest back in those days "cider") was Spitfire.
They may not have a reputation for bleeding edge craft beers dripping with American hops but they certainly know a thing or two about "proper" English Ale.
This is their Generation Ale 2011, a 9% ABV monster made with five malts and five hops to celebrate five generations of Shepherd Neame as an independent family brewery.
At £17.50 a bottle it's not a cheap drink, but you get a wine bottle-full of seriously strong beer that's been well aged. It may be priced similarly to a mid-range bottle of wine, but perhaps that's not an unfair comparison.
It's a crystal clear, rich copper ale with a very fleeting head. The nose is restrained; there's a definite alcohol heat along with some biscuity malt aromas, a little brown sugar, some tantalising earthy hops and just a suggestion of orange zest.
In the mouth it's anything but restrained – fairly light and slightly sweet at first, with perhaps just a touch too much fizz. As it sits on the tongue, it somehow becomes bigger, more syrup laden and at the same time a rich summer fruit and hop bitterness starts to show through. At the same time there's a growing warmth of alcohol and an almost sherry-like character starting to appear.
The perfectly balanced hops and syrup build to a crescendo and then fade as you swallow, leaving you with the lingering alcohol and a strong desire for another taste.
It's a curious beer; the big alcohol character comes through strongly, but it manages to remain lighter than a barley wine and dangerously drinkable. Simply magnificent!
Many thanks to Shepherd Neame who gave Pete Drinks this bottle when we visited last year.
This review was originally published 5th January, 2013. It was last updated 1st June, 2023.